How Mighty Hoopla turned into London’s biggest pop party

What do you get when you put Nelly Furtado, Rachel Stevens, Rebecca Black, Bananarama, and some of the UK’s finest drag artists on the same stage? The answer is the UK’s most joyous, inclusive pop festival.

Mighty Hoopla was founded in 2016 by Jamie Tagg, Glyn Fussell, Sean Rowley and Ally Wolf. It started out at Butlins, before moving to Victoria Park then to Brockwell, south London, in 2018.

The festival, which this year has teamed up with The Independent as its exclusive news partner, is a rare success story in a particularly dire year for music festivals, where 40 have already cancelled amid soaring operational costs and a slow post-covid recovery.

From a grassroots event launched just eight years ago, it now attracts around 60,000 people over two days. Expect plenty of glitter, rhinestones, and lycra, as fans endeavour to dress up as their most fabulous selves.

Tagg and Fussell tell The Independent that the key to this success has a lot to do with their long-standing aim of maintaining a safe and inclusive space for music fans, particularly members of the LGBT+ community. The duo first began working together running club nights, including the popular Sink the Pink, but grew frustrated as they struggled to secure bookings.

“Whenever we booked Sink the Pink at festivals, we realised that the atmosphere outside of our area felt a bit scary and hostile,” Fussell explains, while Tagg adds: “It didn’t feel safe. But we weren’t going to step backwards... the rest of the world needed to catch up with us. So we created that safe environment ourselves.”

“Queer people don’t only want to exist at events like Pride,” Fussell says. “We want to have these large-scale festivals too.”

None of the Mighty Hoopla team really knew what they were getting themselves into, Tagg jokes. “We were still underdogs – we couldn’t find any investment or backing, so we put everything we had into it. We had to learn an awful lot, very quickly. “

They also refused to compromise: “If people say we can’t do something, we do get a kick out of proving them wrong,” Fussell says.

This outlook is clearly working. Mightly Hoopla has now sold out both the Saturday and Sunday tickets, with tickets for the first day of the festival snapped up not long after they went on sale last year.

Venga Boys performing at Mighty Hoopla festival 2023 (Luke Dyson)
Venga Boys performing at Mighty Hoopla festival 2023 (Luke Dyson)

Reflecting on the situation for the wider festival landscape, Tagg says there has been a “perfect storm” of post-covid and cost-of-living, along with the lack of talent willing to take on festival bookings.

“Bigger artists are choosing to do their own tours over going to festivals, and that’s having a real effect on pulling numbers,” he says. “But we are very thankful to our community that they’re supporting us throughout all this.”

Fussell believes that Mighty Hoopla’s popularity also has something to do with their uncynical approach to pop: “There’s no end of amazing vintage pop stars who don’t really get put on other festival lineups, because they not considered cool enough,” he says.

“But all these amazing new queer artists coming through, I’d love to think we’re a part of changing that landscape, because there wasn’t a platform like this for them before.”

“We love to ask our audience who they want to see, and yes, they tell us Britney and Mariah every year, but the fun ones are the ones people lose their minds over,” Tagg adds. “I think a lot of festivals pride themselves on having a real ‘muso’ ethos, whereas we’re more about the fun in pop music.”

Mighty Hoopla’s organisers: ‘We’re more about the fun in pop music’ (Luke Dyson)
Mighty Hoopla’s organisers: ‘We’re more about the fun in pop music’ (Luke Dyson)

Programmer Cassie Leon notes that many of the artists booked to perform are already known to large numbers of their guests, as they have been making their way up to the bigger stages over the years.

“They have their fans who have been with them all the way, sometimes decades,” she says. “That keeps you excited about what’s going to happen next.”

It’s the “biggest compliment”, the team adds, that you’re just as likely to catch one of the artists in the audience, watching another performance, as you are to see tem on stage.

“That’s what Mighty Hoopla is all about,” Fussell says. “Creating that safe space where you can celebrate and feel joy.”

Mighty Hoopla 2024 takes place between 1-2 June in Brockwell Park, London.